After aerobic exercise, strength training is the most important aspect of physical fitness. By maintaining and increasing muscular strength and endurance, adults can expend more energy and accomplish more tasks at any age with less fatigue. All adults of both genders can benefit from strength training but women and older adults especially do. The proper setting of personal goals and the development of action plans can help individuals undertake and succeed at strength training throughout their lives.
The Benefits of Strength Training
There are many significant benefits to strength training, including:
- Increasing or sustaining healthy bone density (stronger bones)
- Improving muscular strength and endurance by 25% to 100% or more
- Looking better
- Improving overall physical fitness
- Improving mood or feeling better
- Increasing stamina
- Gaining greater confidence in one’s physical capability
- Improving balance, functional capacities and independence (older adults)
- Managing chronic conditions (arthritis, back pain, depression, obesity, diabetes, for example)
Thinking about these important benefits should help provide motivation for strength training for most people.
Also known as resistance training or weight training, strength training can be accomplished by using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, or body weight (calisthenics). Regardless of the method, the benefits of regular strength training can be achieved by working the major muscles of the body on two or three nonconsecutive days each week.
Setting Goals for Strength Training
The proper setting of personal goals helps an individual focus effort and energy on important issues and tasks, and motivates persistence in the pursuit of the goals established. Well-formulated specific and challenging goals also help to motivate the search for effective strategies and the creation of productive action plans necessary for goal achievement.
Both short and long term goals should be set, using the proven “SMART” attributes. These goals should be:
- Specific so that they are clear and meaningful
- Measurable so that it is easy to determine whether they have been achieved
- Attainable to avoid discouragement and giving up
- Relevant to important issues like good health and the enjoyment of life
- Timed to establish reasonable deadlines and maintain steady progress
Examples of strength training goals are:
- Start strength training one month from now
- Increase lean muscle mass by five pounds within six months (muscle is more attractive than fat)
- Increase muscular strength by 40% within 12 months
- Maintain gains in muscular strength and endurance by strength training once or twice a week in years two and beyond
An individual’s strength training goals should be personal and based on that individual’s medical and financial situation as well as any specific needs. Professional guidance from a doctor or qualified personal trainer would probably be beneficial.
Creating Action Plans for Strength Training
Action plans detail specific tasks that need to be accomplished to efficiently and effectively pursue and achieve important goals. The simplest example of an action plan is a daily “to-do” list of priority tasks for that day. But more complex goals often require a detailed plan with a schedule and sometimes a budget. Here’s a sample strength training action plan:
- Decide on the method to be used by the end of week one.
- Obtain medical approval for strength training by the end of week two.
- Purchase any equipment or gym membership needed by the end of week three (budget $500).
- Obtain guidance from a certified personal trainer qualified to tailor a program for one’s age and medical status by the end of week four (budget $240).
- Select eight to ten major muscle exercises to perform each session by the end of week four.
- Start strength training two or three times a week on nonconsecutive days by the end of week five.
- Set aside 45 minutes on two or three non-consecutive days a week for strength training and mark up a calendar accordingly.
- Perform one set of 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise for the first two months of actual strength training.
- With medical approval, increase the number of sets to two or three over months three and four.
- After a month or two, invite a family member or friend to join in the program.
Strength Train to Increase Vigor and Preserve Independence
Strength training can help nearly all adults, including those with chronic medical conditions, to increase important aspects of their physical fitness so that they have more strength, stamina and energy both for life’s opportunities and for its challenges. Learning how to set appropriate short and long term goals and how to create effective action plans to achieve those goals generates motivation and enables success in an important area of health and fitness. Increased vigor and the maintenance of independence late in life are objectives attainable and worth pursuing by strength training for only a couple of hours a week.
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